Under A Starry Sky

We camped beneath a cloudless sky that night, after an hour’s hard ride due whatever way we were facing when we exited the nunnery grounds. The stars looked down at us with twinkling eyes, as though they found our situation rather amusing. Well, I could hardly blame them for that.

Three nuns - two of them men, the last even more of a sham than either of the first two, despite being a member of the correct sex for the job - riding alongside a young man who was atop a horse that probably hadn’t supported more than two water buckets in its previous five years. Hell, if those celestial buggers were aware of how chapped my behind was getting from having only a scratchy habit between it and my saddle, I bet they would have been laughing so hard they would’ve cried.

While Jimmy went about gathering wood for a fire, Ben and I took turns escaping from our disguises and getting into a fresh change of clothes while the other kept an eye on Suzie. She hadn’t said a word since we’d left the flaming stables and that didn’t change while she watched us make camp. I was just hoping she was saving up her breath for a good proper explanation of the mess we’d found ourselves in.

I found a spare shirt that looked like it might fit Jimmy and threw it his way. He changed into it with a grunt of thanks before setting to work with flint and steel he’d found in his horse’s saddlebags. Ben and I arranged our sleeping rolls around the pile of sticks Jimmy had found before turning our attention to our laconic guest.

“Now that I’ve got a proper pair of pants on me again,” Ben began as he re-lit the cigar he’d been smoking in the nunnery, “I feel like we can begin our interrogation. A man just doesn’t feel too intimidating in a dress, ain’t that right Red?”

“Can’t say I disagree with that,” I replied, hooking a thumb through my jeans’ belt loop and resting my other hand on Betty. I wasn’t ready to bring her into the conversation quite yet, but it felt good to have her back home again. “So, Sister Suzie, care to elucidate your line of thinking when you accepted those unruly men into your holy sanctum?”

“Come now, Red!” Ben said with a smirk. “Let us not talk of her mating habits so crassly. We may be outlaws, but that doesn’t mean we ought to forget our manners.”

“You two think you’re a right bloody riot, don’t you?” Suzie said, a look of complete disgust contorting her features. “How about you save the comedy show for a more appreciative audience?”

“If you’d prefer I get serious,” Ben said as he drew his gun, “I’d be happy to oblige.”

“Or maybe we could have a reasonable conversation, like grownups would,” I said, shooting Ben a glance. “I don’t think you’ve got anything to lose here, Suzie. Why don’t you just tell us what went down?”

“What do you want to know?” she asked, eyeing Jimmy disdainfully as he came to stand between Ben and I. The sound of crackling flames behind us assured me his efforts had been successful.

“When were you first approached by the marshal’s men? What exactly did they offer that convinced you to dismiss your new relationship with God in favor of selling us down the river?” It was an effort to stop there; I wanted to ask a million more.

“Ah, so you know about my good buddy Jenkins already,” she said with a smile.

“Why am I not surprised that he’s your friend… whatever that word means to you,” Ben said. He looked like he wanted to say more but chose to hold his tongue.

“His boys showed up at my door a few weeks ago, been smelling up the place ever since,” Suzie said, her nose wrinkling. “As to my price… just a small cut of the profits and a place by his side when he rides off into the sunset.”

“How many of the sisters were aware of your arrangement?” I asked, feeling more than a little queasy.

“Just two. They’ll be sounding the alarm in the morning, I imagine. Then those boys will be hot on your tails in a big old hurry.”

“Where’s the cavalry camped out?” Jimmy asked.

“The what?”

“Don’t play dumb, Suzie,” Ben said. “It really doesn’t suit you.”

“The messenger boy was off to bring the rest of our welcoming party to the nunnery,” I cut in. “He said they were waiting for word to head there or to the mine. So I imagine they were as close to the middle of those two points as they could manage.”

“Sounds like Greenwood City to me,” Ben said after consulting the dusty atlas in his head. He looked over at me and cocked an eyebrow.

“Sounds like our next destination to me,” I said with a grim smile.

“Sounds like another death trap to me,” Jimmy muttered.

The End

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